Happy Birthday Kosovo!
Although it’s not all that happy. The newborn nation is still in the throes of economic devastation and ethnic violence. Nor do we know yet if February 17 will continue to be celebrated as the young nation’s independence holiday. Or for that matter, if Kosovo actually is independent.
The State Assembly in Kosovo’s capitol of Pristina declared its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. Since that time over 50 countries have recognized the world’s youngest nation’s independence. However, Serbia is not one of those countries.
According to Serbian President Boris Tadic, February 17 is “just a date when an illegal act was enacted, when Pristina proclaimed Kosovo a so-called state.”
Tensions between the ethnic groups that make up the Balkans and the former Republic of Yugoslavia were subdued under the leadership of Josip Tito, who ruled the amalgamation of states for over 30 years after World War II. The states that made up Yugoslavia were: Bosnia and Herzegovenia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia, of which Kosovo was an autonomous province. Tito’s government stressed “Unity in Brotherhood”, the idea that Yugoslavia’s people were essentially one, but had been divided by foreign occupiers over previous generations.
That idea didn’t fly after Tito’s death in 1980. Ethnic nationalism rose and in 1991 and 1992, most states seceded from Yugoslavia (literally, “South Slavs” land) leaving Serbia and Montenegro the sole members of the former republic.
Smaller than Connecticut, Kosovo is home to over 2 million people, 90% of them ethnic Albanians, with the remainder mostly Serbs. Kosovo first declared independence in 1991, but the movement was put down by Serbian leaders like Slobodan Milosevic.
War ravaged the Balkans throughout the 1990s. The Kosovo War of 1998-1999 left between 5,000 and 10,000 people dead, and culminated with the controversial NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. The state was governed by the UN between 1999 and 2008.
…what Milosevic and his regime tried to do for the Serbian people during their time could not be more wrong. I mean you do not just dispose of people as they thought they could do. You do not fire people en masse, you do not take their housing rights, you do not ignore 2 million people as if they did not exist, and most of all you do not run them away from their homes and their property.
On the other hand what that regime did was not new to Kosovo at all, it had all been done before by the Albanian side…between 1974 and 1988. And let me tell you, it was not easy to be anything but Albanian during those years in Kosovo.
…Having said all of this I can say the place is cursed and will never be peaceful.
— “Srecko”, from Kosovo, “Memories of Kosovo“, BBC